Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Jan. 2, 3 or 4, 2017
Starting in 1994, these annual letters have touched on fear and faith, love and loss. But last year seemed to swirl with every emotion. “Trip to Italy? Fine. Your dog’s dying.” “Your son got a new job in Chicago? OK, Your father’s dying.” “Cubs win the World Series? Alright: Donald Trump.”
Reality restores humility.
Humility is a virtue. When I worked at a daily newspaper, I answered my phone, “Newsroom, Knight,” and when Grandpa called me there, he often responded with a tease: “Big deal.”
He’s missed. But since the lifelong Cardinals fan started wearing a Cubs cap and rooting for Chicago, I put a Cubs souvenir on his headstone last month with a holiday wreath.
At Grandpa’s estate sale, it was impossible not to think of things lost – his laughter and belongings, plus lives we all share, from Muhammad Ali and other celebrities to family and our furry pal Jake, to friends, neighbors, colleagues. Not lost, unfortunately found, are American Nazis, and such people seem to feel heartened to threaten emotional or physical harm to the marginalized. Hate crimes are more commonplace, unsurprising if rejected by most folks.
Grandpa also was a lifelong Republican, but he liked Obama and laughed at Trump, and he thought his white-supremacist supporters were humorous, too. He left us his sense of humor (honed by Groucho Marx books and movies and all the wild energy of the Marx Brothers), and his appreciation for music (especially Dixieland and jazz – most notably Fats Waller and his stride piano and hits from the 1920s and ’30s) and baseball.
The sale? Ice was a theme. Hours of sleet coated everything in a storm like the ones that demanded Grandpa restore rural residents’ power when he was a lineman. There was the antique icebox, the only remnant of an abandoned country schoolhouse he bought and restored in the ’70s. And there was some slight iciness as the curious walked around back where graves and ashes of pets he loved are, adding to a sense of melancholy when strangers looked over beds, dishes and collectibles, like some sad scene from “A Christmas Carol.”
At the start were pieces of furniture he’d refinished, antique clocks he’d restored, latch-hook creations he made when weather kept him from golfing, and ukuleles on which he played old tunes like “My Blue Heaven" and “Old Shep.”
As guys bid on lawn tractors (“one for grass, one for snow”), I felt gloomy when an older gent in Carhartts and a seed-corn cap gingerly walked on frozen ground toward a pickup truck parked beneath the apple tree out front, toting a concrete flower basket from the stoop where Grandma planted petunias in the spring.
Before, facing Grandma and Grandpa’s stuff – sorting heirlooms, mementoes and knickknacks, giving some away, throwing some away, and prepping more for the auction – I wondered how it accumulated. Since they grew up during the Great Depression, I suspect it was as much from anxiety about scarcity as hoarding, varied interests or over-organizing. Then I looked at the clutter in my office and elsewhere and wondered what I’ll leave you: Stuff? Paper nuisances? Hopeful expectations?
The Cubs won the World Series after 108 years. That’s hope, if not often expectation.
Death is expected, of course, yet its impact can still stun us into despair. Memories can shield against some grief and disappointment.
But the Cubs won, against silly superstitions, late November 2. Trump won, against most projections, late November 8. So we had six exhilarating days of celebration. Six days – almost making the Cubs an aside in a year whose sunset heralds darkness ahead. That’s reality. Humanity. Humility.
Yet they won, and we can’t gloat. But we can cherish moments, like the one that happened hours before Grandpa died, in his bed, at his home, his dog at his side. He’d smiled and said, “I’m proud of you boys.”
He meant Uncle Tracy and me, and you, too.
[PICTURED: Father and son at a Wrigleyville watering hole after a September ballgame.]